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Canadian Metcalf's first US publication--two novellas and three short stories--mainly concern middle aged men suffering through one sort of midlife crisis or another. At his best, Metcalf manages to render a great deal of emotional pain with an ironic self-deprecating touch that keeps the reader afloat. Of the two novellas, ""Polly Ongle"" and ""Travelling Northward,"" the former concerns a sex-starved father smitten with one of his employees, and the latter a professional writer ""addicted to performance"" and to ""unfettered drinking."" Polly Ongle is Paul Denton's name for an employee at his art gallery, and one night he takes her out. Much younger, she drags them to a punk-rock club where Denton encounters his son, who is too drunk to function. Denton leaves Norma (Polly Ongle) and looks after his son, lecturing the nearly comatose boy along the way--it's a strangely moving journey through a dark night of the soul. Robert Forde, the professional writer, believes that ""human contact in the morning made it that much more impossible to face the waiting page."" Such an attitude does nothing for his marriage, of course, and the novella concerns that marriage as well as a reading he gives in the small village of North Portage, Ontario. The tale is a microscopic rendering of a writer's private world and a marriage whose quotient of love survives a lot of aggravation. Of the stories, ""The Eastmill Reception Centre,"" the best, concerns a teacher in a school for juveniles who comes to see that his charges ""have enjoyed life more than I have."" ""The Nipples of Venus"" (middle-aged couple in Europe) and ""Single Gents Only"" (a student in a comic, grotesque boardinghouse) have their moments but work a different, more exotic vein. There are a good number of first-rate Canadian writers who have not received sufficient attention here. Metcalf is one of them.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1989
Publisher: St. Martin's